Saturday, September 8, 2012

the paralympics

Tomorrow night the London 2012 Paralympics close. I will miss them. More than the Olympics.

The Paralympics and Paralympians are more accessible than the elitism of the 'boring' Games as The Last Leg's Adam Hills called the Olympics. Everyone has limitations in some way and watching people with obvious, or not-so-obvious, limitations push themselves and excel beyond expectation is memorable and inspirational. It makes going to work with that sore shoulder or bad head more achievable.

I, with other Canadians, became aware of the Paralympics when the amazing achievements of Chantal Petitclerc were broadcast on the CBC, though not until she had already been competing for years. (I just found out she is coaching for the Brits these Games.) Media coverage has been the key to people finding out about Paralympians and their dedication. Media coverage and these Games will advance the perception of the 'disabled' in a profound way.

Besides the athletes and coaches, I have also been very impressed with the great care taken in establishing so many categories of competition, going to great lengths to equalize playing fields, in what is often, science aside, a subjective measurement.

And nods of respect to the Brits, who have presented these Paralympics with great style and equanimity and never taken the honours due them for being the first home of the Paralympics. I would say, that even now, at the end of these Games, very few people realize the Paralympic movement began in England at a hospital for war veterans. A fine drama, The Best of Men, presented on TV between the Olympics and Paralympics, told the remarkable story of German refugee Dr. Ludwig Guttmann and his work with disabled war veterans at Stoke Mandeville hospital, but it was subtly downplayed for no apparent reason.

I will especially miss, and here you can hear an audible moan, the nightly hijinks of Adam Hills' The Last Leg, an end-of-night politically incorrect (and correct) roundup of the days events, which takes so many of those questions we all have about previously taboo subjects and, with laughter, dissolves the taboos. No wonder the Paralympians (American wheelchair rugby team in particular) break their curfews to watch it. So funny, and I am sad to see it come to an end.

Shine on, Paralympics!

Friday, September 7, 2012

summer wanderings

Olympic viewing in the Hayes, Cardiff city centre

Rail trip to Llanwrtyd Wells -- too late for the Games events though

Kite statue, Llanwrtyd Wells

Part of the Heart of Wales train loop

Alexandra Gardens in Cardiff on a lovely summer day in August

Paralympic insignia in front of Cardiff City Hall

Walk alongside Boulevard de Nantes

Nereid, daughter of Greek seagod, dancing with fish and birds

A balancing act

The Great Western pub in Cardiff City Centre

Working hands

The British Fish Craft Championships at Cardiff's Harbour Festival -- last weekend in August

Fish fight

X-treme Sailing in Cardiff Bay during Harbour Festival

Thursday, September 6, 2012

'the fight for Canada!'

The Bicentenary of the War of 1812 -- at Cardiff Castle

On a sunny weekend at the end of August, 'The Fight for Canada!' came to Cardiff Castle, with re-enactors portraying the Battle of Fort Detroit. This hit home for me -- literally, as I am from the Windsor/Detroit area -- on an emotional level I wasn't expecting.

Growing up, the War of 1812 was always a hazy war -- a war that seemed to have been a series of skirmishes fought in apple orchards so long ago. Who won? who lost? It was always described as a kind of draw -- though the Americans originally attacked and it could have been said that they lost -- were we, as Canadians, too reluctant to lay claim to the fact that we did, in fact, defend our borders?

I was rather stunned to see this battle being depicted here in Cardiff, and then surprised again to find out that the 41st Regiment from Britain that was sent to Canada and fought at River Canard and Detroit is the predecessor of the Welsh Regiment. Though the regiment really had no specific ties to Wales until 1831, the surrendered colours of Fort Detroit hang today, a dark and faded eagle, in the Firing Line museum at Cardiff Castle.

The camp of the 41st Regiment
Meal time at the British camp -- being the wife of a soldier circa 1812
was not a pleasant prospect. Only six wives and their children,
out of a possible 100 in a company, were allowed
to accompany their husbands overseas, chosen via a lottery.
If their husbands were killed, they often remained, remarrying to another soldier.

Fort Detroit (minus the Detroit River)

The American camp

The renactment of the actual battle in August, 1812 was told from the viewpoint of one of the soldiers of the 41st, John Dean, who enlisted in Britain and made the 9-week journey to fight in Canada. He was one of the two soldiers who held off the British at River Canard and was the first prisoner of the War of 1812, being rescued when the British and Tecumseh's warriors later took Fort Detroit. Actors portrayed the American General Hull and his daughter, who made the journey with her father to Fort Detroit, recording her remembrances; the British General Isaac Brock and the great Aboriginal leader Tecumseh, prerecorded voices booming over the grounds.

I had never even heard of this battle before. And it was important -- very important. And, it was a rather masterful battle of minds more so than of blood. Though Hull and the Americans outnumbered the British and Aboriginal forces, they ended up surrendering the fort after a relatively short time, being deceived into believing the allied forces were greater in number than they were. Brock and Tecumseh deceptively had their men circle back through the woods and go through food lines more than once to make their camp appear larger.

General Hull was vilified in the U.S. for the surrender, court-martialled and sentenced to death, though he received a pardon because of his successes during the American Revolution. By the time he was put in charge of Fort Detroit he seemed a man tired of war.

Brock and Tecumseh were dead within a year and a half -- Brock in Queenston Heights in October, and Tecumseh in October, 1813 at the Battle of the Thames.

I had never appreciated this fight for Canada before. It really defined North America as it is today. I also never fully appreciated the role of Tecumseh and his Aboriginal forces, though his name is everywhere in the Windsor area. I think it is safe to assume the British would not have done as well without Tecumseh's leadership and his supporters. It is also true that though Canada and the United States ended the war in 1815 with their boundaries intact, Tecumseh's death and the War of 1812 was the last stand for a true self-determination by eastern Aboriginals.

The Battle for Fort Detroit

The camp doctor details the realities of battlefield amputations

'Tecumseh' -- not too sure he would have worn an ostrich feather